Burma picks panel to reform army-scripted constitution

Burma picks panel to reform army-scripted constitution

Agence France-Presse

Burma set up a committee to discuss reforming the country’s military-drafted constitution in late February 2019, pitting Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government openly against the powerful armed forces for the first time over the incendiary issue.

Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party won a landslide in 2015 elections but was forced into an uneasy power-sharing agreement with the armed forces.

Under a 2008 charter it drafted, the military controls all security ministries and is given a quarter of parliamentary seats.

That hands the army an effective veto over any constitutional change.

Suu Kyi’s party has promised to reform the controversial document.

With 2020 polls looming, parliament voted overwhelmingly to form a cross-party committee to debate reforms of the charter.

The main purpose of the “all-inclusive” panel will be to “write a bill to change the 2008 constitution,” NLD lawmaker Tun Hein, who is the deputy speaker and committee chair, told parliament.

The NLD will be allocated 18 out of 45 seats on the panel, the military will have eight, and the remainder will be divided among other parties.

There has so far been no detail about the specific reforms the discussions would focus on, or the steps ahead once the panel makes its recommendations.

Its formation threatens a political showdown with the army, whose bloc of appointed military legislators stood up in protest in early February 2019 when the committee’s formation was first mooted.

However, the army chief struck a more conciliatory tone in a rare interview with foreign media in late February.

“We accept that the constitution needs amendments,” he told Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun.

“But the important point is that no amendment should harm [its] essence.”

The move by parliament came just a few days after a court handed death sentences to the killers behind the 2017 murder of Muslim lawyer Ko Ni, who was a Suu Kyi advisor.

He was leading the charge on constitutional reform when he was shot dead in cold blood, while cradling his grandson.

Ko Ni is also credited with Suu Kyi’s circumnavigation of a clause banning anyone married to a foreigner from becoming president.

Suu Kyi, whose late husband was British academic Michael Aris, created her current post of state counselor above the president’s office.

Forming the cross-party committee is “very significant,” analyst Khin Zaw Win, director of Yangon-based Tampadipa Institute, said, adding there could be a “reckoning of sorts” approaching between the NLD and army.

“It will need a lot of ingenuity and creativity from everyone.”